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Knock-knock jokes…  Top Ten lists…  “That’s what she said”…  Over time, cultures build stockpiles of shared comic references.  Back when we all watched Saturday Night Live, everyone copped Dana Carvey’s “Isn’t that special?” complete with the Church Lady’s off-balance lip pursing.  More recently, Kanye West’s obnoxiousness led to a spate of  “Imma let you finish–” bits.  Sharing laughs around common reference points builds bonds between people, and simply makes the day pass more pleasantly…Picture 1

So it’s no surprise that this video popped up at the end of last week.  Mark Wegener, the man behind the consistently intelligent humor of ‘Local Paper’, passed along this latest version of Downfall, this time with Bruno Ganz’ Hitler screaming about the news media’s breathless over-coverage of the Balloon Boy hoax.

These days, you really are nowhere in the cultural landscape if you haven’t been referenced and had the piss taken out of you by ridiculous subtitles laid over this 2004 Oscar nominated film.  Type “Hitler Downfall” into YouTube’s search box and you’ll get 2,280 hits.  People have re-edited this clip to make Hitler rail on everything from Twitter’s server fail to Michael Bay’s Transformers to Tony Romo dumping Jessica Simpson.  It’s become such a common reference point it’s even gone meta, with Hitler losing it over his discovery of all the Hitler parodies.

It will take a far smarter person than me to explain our collective subconscious enjoyment of seeing history’s most notorious villain alternatively simper and explode over the banal topics of everyday life.  But the simpler truth is that the internet, originally designed to link brainiacs involved in military research and development, now serves a far more noble purpose: enabling distant people–often complete strangers–to satisfy our deeply human need for connection.  And laughter.

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79
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SmileBalloon_IMGThis blog began almost one year ago as a repository for thoughts and opinions related to the rapidly-changing world of marketing.  “Collective-Thinking” referred to the cloud nature of modern intelligence; how the thoughts and opinions surrounding our industry exist in an ever-growing, ever changing aggregation online.

The process of keeping pace with our changing industry in order to write about it forced a lot of growth and new thinking.  Perhaps the most fundamentally game-changing realization is how the time-honored notion of ‘brand truth’ no longer holds.  “Brand Truths” are vestiges of a time when advertising dollars could buy a one-way sales channel to consumers.  Because the messages flowed solely from the marketer, the advertising agency could determine and dictate what constituted ‘truth.’

Today, that model simply doesn’t exist.  Opinion enjoys a mass channel, personal recommendation drives the vast majority of sales, and the dawn of broadband and the widespread access to Web 2.0 has eradicated the old one-way channel.  Today, there are more outlets for feedback, more forums for discussion, more places for consumers to provide their perspectives on brands.

Today, Brands must find ways to thrive in a world of opinion no longer dominated by advertisers.  Brands must begin adopting a two-phase process of advertising and word of mouth, of building awareness and empowering advocates, of getting recognized and the getting recommended.  Agencies must work to develop and spread ‘sharable stories’ to influence the dialogue out in the world of opinion.

That will be the way forward for marketers.  At least, that’s my opinion.

So if through some stroke of momentous kindness, you’ve bookmarked or subscribed to this site, please reset your feeds to www.brandsareopinions.com.  And thank you very, very much.

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79

Most everyone does stupid stuff as a kid; you play games and try things with only the most minimal concern for personal safety (“Sure we were shooting each other with BB guns–but we were wearing shop goggles!”).  It’s the nature of kids–particularly boys–to chase a thrill, mindless of dangers or consequences.  It’s why my nephews wrestled on a sidewalk in their Sunday best outside a First Communion Ceremony…

The Jiffy Pop Has Landed...

The Jiffy Pop Has Landed...

But six year old Falcon Heene took this phenomenon to a whole ‘nother level yesterday…a level estimated between 8000′ and 8500’, according to Larimer County Sheriff James Alderden.

As the quickly-christened “Balloon Boy,” he owned CNN for five hours…

He earned a minute-by-minute blog on the NY Times…

#Balloon Boy was Twitter’s #2 trending topic  yesterday, and was number one when aggregating all Balloon Boy variants.

Balloon Boy re-routed all of Colorado’s Northbound air traffic for fifteen full minutes…

In the cold light of a new day, the Balloon Boy may turn out to be a hoax–and he clearly never left the ground–but it’s head-spinning how he managed to garner national and even global attention so quickly.  Apparently the formula of GRAVE RISK TO A CHILD + FOCUSED ATTENTION & INTENTIONS + HAPPY FEEL GOOD RESOLUTION = CULTURE STOPPING MOMENT.  Of course, much like how the passing of any obsession brings up vague embarrassment over one’s outsized collective enthusiasm once the moment passes, a lot of people are backpedaling today.  Some are downright angry and considering pursuing potential charges.

Still, the notion of apply this lesson to create breakthrough for a product naturally crosses any marketer’s mind.  Imagine the impact such an event would have in the marketplace–imagining how truly awesome it could be to span our brutally-fragmented media environment with one compelling story…  It would solve so many media allocation issues.

But then, even if we could determine the precise factors behind this fast-rising phenomenon, we might not want to apply them to brands– the backlash risk would simply be too great and too virulent.

We’re glad Falcon’s safe.  But clearly, he’s no Captain Sully Sullenberger.

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79

Despite what some spittle-lipped sharpsters might try to sell you, social media’s rapid behavior-changing adoption is still far from settled enough for anyone to analyze and measure.  The marketing industry still bobs chest deep in the churning waves, making assessment difficult at best.  The one incontrovertible truth is that in remarkably short order, Twitter, Facebook and other social networks have powerfully reset both who we communicate with and how, leaving brands scrambling to determine just what to make of it and how to adjust.Picture 2

Today’s consumers enjoy a radical new level of access and empowerment; marketers enjoy a unprecedented access and insights.  And everyone involved must now balance the benefits of another powerful new platform even as we assess the drawbacks and limitations.

All of which makes Catharine Taylor’s latest post on Social Media Insider a great jumping off point for timely client discussions.  Under the provocative heading “Is Social Media Turning Us Into Whiner Nation,” Catharine raises the issue of determining the relative quality of social media input.  Sometimes this dialogue can inform and reshape productively, but many times, they amount to so much hyper-empowered bitching.

On one level, companies can consider all of this new social input the equivalent of having a world wide complaint desk that’s always open–a vastly enhanced, far more powerful version of the old one-employee department that existed solely to provide disgruntled shoppers an outlet for their frustrations.  And to a point, that’s reasonably accurate (consider Motrin, and just recently, Amp).  Social media provides a mass channel for opinion, and it can be skewed heavily by special interests or a vocal minority.  Worse, the most destructive of those opinions often spring from people far outside a brand’s core target, rendering them less relevant but still potentially damaging.  Should brands respond then or should they abide, enduring a temporary tempest before the shouters move on to the inevitable next offense, another issue of another new day?

These are questions brands and their advocates must address.  Like it or not, advertisers are well served to monitor these inputs, and make adjustments if necessary.  But to do that, we must all get more skilled at assessing those tweets and blogs–their relevance, resonance and virulence.  And we must also get better at assessing positive feedback; it’s far too simple to slip into easy acquiescence after hearing one or two glowing reviews.  Positive sources can be just as suspect as negative ones.

Perhaps the greatest irony of this new reset in the advertiser-consumer relationship–from a one-sided platform driven by wealthy brands to a two-way dialogue powered by basically anyone with broadband–is how hard it is for marketers to reconcile the fact that consumers now have a voice.  And speak up.  Pretty loudly sometimes.

We always thought that was our job.

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79

The notion of a Twitter Social Mobile Crash is not a metaphor.  I don’t mean to imply Twitter no longer dominates as the pre-eminent social media on the mobile platform–they certainly do.  In fact, according to a Crowd Science survey, 41% of Twitter users contact friends via social media rather than by phone.  And 11% of Twitter users admitted to tweeting while driving during the previous thirty days.  And that is probably a lowball number.478966.1-lg

Unfortunately, the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute released a different study back in July that showed texting while driving makes you twenty-three times more likely to crash.

Do that math: twenty-three freaking times more likely to crash…

We gotta put these things down, hard as that may be.  And I’ll admit, I’m guilty.  I’ve done it.  I’ve texted and tweeted while steering with my knees.  But by any rational measure, that’s idiotic behavior.  Adding another comment on Amp Energy Drink’s boneheaded iPhone app doesn’t quite seem worth creasing a quarter panel of sheet metal…or worse.

So while the inevitable Twitter Social Mobile Crashes have already come and will keep coming, I’ll make you a deal: I won’t tweet behind the wheel if you won’t.  That way, we won’t have to meet on the shattered glass of an accident scene or the grim lighting in the emergency room; we can meet the way the web intended–virtually, with goofy assumed names and offbeat links.

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79

Picture 1

The Original E-mail from Dyson US

Monday morning, I received an email from Dyson US entitled “What has Dyson invented now?”  I usually delete sales messages right away but having owned three Dyson vacuums over the years and spent some time poking around the website that celebrates his charmingly curious mind, I opened it up.

The headline inside read “We did away with bags.  Now we’ve got rid of ___ in ____.” The copy went on to stress the familiar Dyson themes of re-imagining old technology, ultimately ending in a link to learn more.  So I clicked that.

The link led to a slightly-overlong video of people staring, mouth agape, at some remarkable object just below camera.  They couldn’t identify it but loved the object’s look.  Clearly, it resembled nothing they’d ever seen.  By the time I finished the video, Dyson had engaged me for three and a half minutes.  But then they dropped the meat in the dirt…

They simply supered “October 2009” and ended the video.  After investing all that time they gave me nothing, not even a glimpse of the unidentified object to pique my curiosity about what it might be.  Frustrated, I combed the rest of their website but found nothing.

Suddenly, I kinda hated James Dyson.  I hated his plastic contraptions, his British accent which I had long found intellectually appealing now rang twee, and the blueprints of other objects just looked like so much self indulgence.

The man had wasted my time.  And I deeply, deeply resented it.  Advocates tout the advantages of digital technology largely along the lines of engagement, user experience and information.  Web users have come to expect that anything they need to know is just a few clicks away, and often more comprehensive than they need.  But this tactic, which began with a simple, well-written email, dishonored those expectations.  It treated this medium like TV, where I might see a teaser ad on “Family Guy” one week then see the corresponding explanatory ad the next week, since I watch that show regularly.

But there are no appointments with the web.  It is always on, always available, and always presents an entirely fresh experience with little sense of prior history and absolutely no narrative arc.  What had started as an awesome advertising launch tactic ultimately backfired, alienating an engaged user.

Happily, there’s something else unique to the web: you can adjust and edit your content in real time.  So this morning, when I sat down to write about this madding experience, I clicked the link again and landed on a whole new page.  Perhaps they received complaints, perhaps they noticed people left the site pretty quickly, or perhaps they embedded cookies so that anytime someone revisited the site they would receive an answer; whatever they did, they corrected the problem.  And I was engaged once more.

His new item truly looks wildly original.  Suddenly, I like James Dyson again.  Good design and good will amongst men: both good things in this world.

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79
The Cliffs of Moher

The Cliffs of Moher

I missed two blog entries last week due to an annual golf trip to Ireland.  This year, we went to the West, in County Clare and the Galway area.  After playing a gorgeous round at Lahinch and before an unbelievable plate of stew at Gus O’Connor’s pub in Doolin, we stopped briefly at the breathtaking Cliffs of Moher.  Standing on O’Brien’s tower gives you a 700 foot vantage point on Galway Bay with the Aran Islands barely visible out in the Atlantic.  It’s a spectacular spot and thanks to both our tour guide Tim and Wikipedia, I learned that it served as a backdrop for The Princess Bride, the latest entry in the endless line of Harry Potter movies, and even the hazy cover art for U2’s recent album, No Line on the Horizon.

CliffFall

Sign #1

Along the walk up, the tourist bureau posted a series of warning signs.  It may be true that much like Scotland, Ireland and the United States are two cultures separated by a common language, but really, a few words may have been in order to help clarify the meaning of these imaginative, if over-reaching symbols.

They started simply enough with Sign #1: a triangular-shaped warning that sprinting along the edge may cause both damage to the cliffs and an ungainly posture.  Indeed, this simple visual messaging would easily translate for visitors from most any culture around the world.

Sign #2

Sign #2

Sign #2 however, began the descent into indecipherability.  It could mean ‘please don’t kick the oversized black piano keys’ or perhaps ‘no hurdling gravestones.’  Maybe it means that ‘climbing shipping boxes of framed paintings requires two hands’ or perhaps even something as prosaic as ‘no dancing too close to obstructions of any sort,’ but that seems unlikely given the Irish proclivity for enthusiastic if ungainly dancing.  No, Sign #2 remained something of a mystery to our group, but whatever it warned of, apparently we were able to walk away unscathed and apparently, without egregious violation.

Sign #3

Sign #3

Sign #3 though totally lost it with the implied intent.  ‘No hovering at altitudes higher than the local birds’?  ‘No walking on flaming coals while littering candy wrappers’?  ‘Beware of fire gulls’?  The possibilities for misinterpretation seem limitless and would require someone with expertise in a made up academic discipline like “Symbology”–that’s right, I’m talking to you Robert Langdon and you too Dan Brown–to interpret the meaning of the graphic artist here.

Then again, take another look at the top picture.  See all the non-cushioning layers of shale and sandstone that might provide only a harsh and temporary break in any unfortunate fall over the nearly vertical cliff face that ultimately ends in the frigid crashing sea hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of feet below?  Taking that perspective, it seems Nature already provides all the warning labels one might need to keep all but the most determined visitor from tumbling off.  That’s keeping it simple…

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79